By Michael Guerin
Northern driver Zachary Butcher faces two very big problems at Addington tonight, both from the same stable.
And while he thinks he knows what he has to do to try and counter one, he isn’t so sure about the other.
Tonight’s meeting contains many of the age group stars of pacing but the tricky issue for punters, and drivers like Butcher, is there is a much richer race meeting in nine days.
That is the Grand Prix at Addington which contains classics like the New Zealand Derby and NZ Oaks for the pacers, the final major targets of the season for Butcher’s two key drives tonight in Mantra Blue (R3, No.5) and Merlin (R7, No.8).
The problem for each is drawn outside them and clearly superior to them last start are Millwood Nike and Don’t Stop Dreaming.
Millwood Nike is unbeaten in 16 starts and could be one of the greatest fillies ever produced here so how does trainer-driver Butcher tackle her with Mantra Blue?
“First things first, she was way too good for us last start and maybe she will be again,” admits Butcher.
“But I think this is our best chance to beat her. I think my girl has the gate speed to get the lead and we really have to stay there, or at least not hand it away to Millwood Nike.
“If she can it parked and beat us then that is what happens but over the sprint trip and with nine days until the Oaks it is worth trying.”
Merlin doesn’t face quite as big a mountain in Don’t Stop Dreaming, who he has at least beaten once before, but his barrier eight is compounded by some natural speedsters like Wag Star and Who’s Delight drawn inside him.
“It is tricky because I’d like to stay in front of him (Don’t Stop Dreaming) but I can’t only have one plan because there are some really good horses drawn inside both of us,” says Butcher.
“The last thing we want to do is have a really hard run and put him on the back foot before the Derby, but we also want to win.”
Regardless of tactics Millwood Nike probably only needs to produce her best or something close to it to win but whether Don’t Stop Dreaming is quite so dominant tonight may depend on the tempo and traffic in his race as he has been beaten before sitting parked against this crop.
While tonight’s pacing races have a lead-up feel to them the trotting races are all finals, Group races and full of depth.
The Lone Star Sires’ Trot for juveniles is very even and could come down to manners with any one of (in order) Empire City, Wilma’s Boy, Tyron Eros or Look To Da Stars capable of winning without upsetting, and the chances don’t end there.
The $110,000 NZ Trotting Oaks is a beauty but northern fillies Shez Bella (R6, No.4) and Melsadele (3) look as good as the southerners and Shez Bella appeals as one of the better each way bets of the night.
It is fitting to see the trotting mares racing for $60,000 as that gait’s females start to get the respect they deserve but for all the quality of the field the two backmarkers Resolve (R8, No.12) and Time Up The Hill (11) have been excellent in our absolute best trotting races this spring so one of them should win.
Michael Guerin’s bets for the night :
Multi anchor: Millwood Nike is only paying $1.20 but she could be a very special horse and seems to like sitting parked so might be worth the risk in multis.
Each way: Shez Bella has a good diet of mobile racing in Australia under her belt and was enormous against older horses here last time. Very hard to beat.
Class edge: Resolve was third in the Ggroup 1 Dominion last start and her 30m handicap is somewhat negated by only two horses being on the front line.